The Town of Hotchkiss received a violation notice this month from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment because not all town water users submitted results of their backflow prevention devices. The health department requires municipalities, and by extension individual water users, to annually test the devices.
"This is strictly a paperwork thing," said Mayor Wendell Koontz. "Our water is safe. There are no issues." It's important to note that the drinking water in the town does not need any special treatment: there is no need to boil the water, drink bottled water or any other measures. The water is not contaminated; this is a violation of the testing rule.
In 2015, the CDPHE implemented new rules regarding cross connection control and backflow prevention, explained Mike Owens, public works director for the Town. Although it has been a requirement for a number of years that water customers who have testable backflow prevention devices have them tested annually, the new rules have more specific obligations for both the town and the device owner, including mandatory testing and reporting to CDPHE. Under the new rules, testable devices need to be tested once each calendar year and those results need to be submitted to the Town of Hotchkiss before the end of the year. In 2016 the town received a compliance ratio of .32 from device owners. The CDPHE required a compliance ratio of .50 of device test results from device owners, making the town noncompliant.
Uncontrolled cross connections can lead to inadvertent contamination of drinking water. The state, and the town, are trying to make sure outside sources of containment -- anything from a hot tub to a garden hose to an automatic sprinkler system that's hooked into the municipal water supply -- doesn't contaminate drinking water.
The new law mandates that each year, the percentage of taps that are tested increase. Last year, the town was required to have 50 percent of the devices tested; this year, it's 60 percent. The percentage will go up until 90 percent of devices are being tested annually.
Owens mailed letters to all all town water tap owners last week detailing the violation, and encouraging people to get their devices tested before the end of the year. He is especially encouraging water users to test now, before irrigation dries up and the devices can't be tested. That was part of the problem in testing last year, he said. "A lot of them were on irrigation systems and by the time we got to the testing phase, many had already winterized or there was no water," he said.
The burden of testing falls to consumers, not to the municipality, Owens said. "It's their responsibility to put the device in and test it annually. It's our responsibility to make sure the device is being tested," he said.
The state is enforcing this testing on every water tap except for those in single family residences, which means all businesses and multi-family homes in the Town of Hotchkiss should be testing each year. However, if the threat of contamination is evident, single family residences should also install and test the backflow device.
Once a tap owner has a certified, signed copy of the test results, they are required to give a copy to Owens, so he can in turn show the results to the state. The town is still noncompliant for 2016, and lacks about eight test results to become compliant. However, for 2017, the town is required to have 60 percent of the taps tested, and that's what has Owens concerned. "We're pushing hard this year. We'd really like to be in compliance," he said.
The state gives municipalities permission to shut off water services for those users who are not in compliance or if they refuse to test or turn in test results. "We hate to go that direction, but if that's what we have to do to stay in compliance, that's what we'll end up doing," Owens said.
Several plumbers working in the area are certified device testers, and can help a water user. If a user is unsure what a backflow device looks like, or if they have one installed, Owens and his crew are happy to inspect your system. Owens can be reached at 872-3663 for more information.